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Mililani board OKs affordable-housing plan

The support of Meheula Vista is dependent on certain changes being asked of the developer

By Andrew Gomes


Local affordable-housing developer Gary Furuta has won conditional support from Mililani Mauka community representatives to build rental housing for seniors in the neighborhood.

But one of the conditions — a height reduction — might not be something the developer will implement.

The Mililani Mauka/Launani Valley Neighborhood Board voted 6-3 last week to support the project called Meheula Vista conditioned on a few changes.

"The board took its position and now we can move on," said board Chairman Dean Hazama, who voted with the majority.

Board members staked their positions on the project a month after Mililani Mauka residents packed January's board meeting and vociferously condemned the plan.

At the January meeting, no one from the public spoke in favor of the project except for people connected with the developer or landowner Castle & Cooke.

The January meeting drew roughly 150 people. No motion to oppose or support the plan passed last month because only five board members were on hand to vote. All five would have had to vote unanimously to pass a motion, but views were split.

Last week's meeting was more subdued, Hazama said, and a few people unconnected with the project spoke in favor of the plan.

Seniors who reside in affordable rentals elsewhere on Oahu testified in part to allay concerns raised previously about transportation habits of seniors and whether they would use their addresses to get grandchildren into area schools.

Still, most testimony was against the project, and the board remained concerned about the number of apartments — 301 spread over four buildings each featuring two-story and three-story wings.

Conditions tied to the board's support included limiting the project to two stories and adding a traffic light at the intersection of Meheula Parkway and Kuaoa Street.

Keith Kurahashi, a Meheula Vista consultant with planning firm Kusao & Kurahashi Inc., said a traffic light will be installed, but eliminating the project's third story might not be feasible.

"We're going to take a careful look at which conditions we can meet," he said, noting that a height reduction will reduce the number of units needed to make the complex financially feasible.

Of the 301 units, 76 are on the third floor.

Furuta of GSF LLC initially proposed building 226 low-income rental apartments on the site.

But after the neighborhood board opposed that plan in July, Furuta shifted the project to 301 senior rentals. The change was intended to address concerns over traffic and school impacts. The thought was that retirees on limited incomes often don't drive cars and generally don't have school-age children.

Rents for Meheula Vista are projected to be around $700 a month and attract seniors mostly in their 70s and up.

The developer partnered with Catholic Charities Hawaii, which would own and manage the project for a minimum of 60 years for seniors earning no more than 60 percent of Oahu's median income.

Whether the project is modified again to meet neighborhood board desires won't necessarily affect its chances of governmental approval.

A recommendation by the board is something considered by city and state officials, though it doesn't determine whether Meheula Vista will be authorized.

The Hawaii Housing Finance & Development Corp., a state agency that facilitates affordable-housing development, will hold a public hearing on the project, but at a previous hearing had approved lending $9.7 million to Furuta to buy the land and pay for design work. The developer intends to seek additional agency funding for construction.

The City Council also will hold a public hearing on the project to consider exemptions to impact fees.

The project site was long slated by Castle & Cooke for commercial use and a nonprofit performing arts center. But the company that master-planned Mililani Mauka said businesses aren't interested in the 7.5-acre site. Castle & Cooke also said the Oahu Arts Center failed to meet a deadline to demonstrate it had financial means to build and operate the arts center, though the nonprofit disputes this claim.

Under state regulations promoting affordable housing, Furuta would be exempt from the site's commercial zoning.

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